Associate Professor Joe Janes, chair of the MLIS program, recently announced his decision to run for president of the American Library Association (ALA). MLIS students Twanna Hodge and Heather Newcomer, co-presidents of the student chapter of ALA, sat down with Janes to talk about his candidacy.
Q. Why are you running for the presidency of ALA?
A. This profession has been very good to me and this is a great way for me to be able to give something back. I also think it’s going to be a hoot—a lot of fun, an adventure, an opportunity, and quite a ride no matter how it turns out. I’ve spent the last 20 plus years privileged enough to be able to think about, ask questions about, and help prepare people for a profession that is changing every day. We’re at a cusp in the information world in general, and in the library world in particular. We’ve reached a real turning point in our collective understanding of information objects, and who owns what, and who gets to do what with what, and how libraries are part of that ecosystem of creativity. This is a great time for someone to use the platform of the presidency to facilitate a conversation about these issues so we can all do better to serve our communities.
Q. What would you bring to ALA?
A. Being successful in leading an organization the size and complexion of ALA is as much about what goes on outside as it is about what goes inside, if not a little bit more. You can be the mouthpiece, the face, the voice of librarians, librarianship, and what we do. I think that is an area of strength for me—I’m a great storyteller, and there are great stories to be told about how libraries make their communities better, how we make everyone else better, and telling that story plays to my strengths. I want to be on the Daily Show and the Tonight Show, in the New York Times, to tell the stories that will help people understand why libraries are still incredibly vital and necessary in every aspect of life.
Q. What advice do you have for library science students and young professionals about leadership?
A. Leadership is so critical and it manifests in a lot of different ways. People need to find the way in which they are the most authentically a leader and capitalize on that. Are they going to run an organization or chair a committee, lead from the front? Are they the sort of person who generates a crazy idea nobody else would and has the guts to say it aloud even if they get shot down sometimes for their troubles, but sometimes saves the day? Are they the person who makes groups and projects work effectively? There’s no one way to do it, and that’s important to recognize. That’s what I’ve done, to recognize the leadership roles that feel comfortable to me and how to make the most of the gifts that I have. I can motivate and move people. I can tell a really good story. I can galvanize. Also, I’m a collaborator and a consensus builder. I’m the sort of person who can get all of the relevant players in the room and figure out what we’ve got in common. But—and this is very important—don’t shy away from thinking about yourself as a “leader” because “you’re not that sort of person”. Our profession and our communities need all those gifts and talents, each in our own way, to move forward together.
Q. What made you decide to run now?
A. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for several years. I actually got a call 5 or 6 years ago from someone on the ALA Nominating Committee saying my name had been put forward to run for the presidency. It was one of those knock-you-out-of-your-chair kind of moments because it had never entered my head and I literally (as hard it is to believe) couldn’t talk for like ten seconds. So I went through the nominating process but was not nominated that year. Since then it has come up a couple of times but the timing was never right—it was when the iSchool was up for accreditation or when I was about to do something else. This was the right year and the right time for me personally and professionally, so we’re doing it!
Q. This year’s race is unusual, isn’t it?
A. Yes, it’s a four-way race with two candidates from the ALA Nominating Committee and two petition candidates, including me. There hasn't been a four-way election in over a decade, so that makes every vote count. At this point, it’s anyone’s race. For me, it makes it all that more exciting because I think members who have never been inclined to vote will vote this year. I’d love to see a record turnout, and of course I want to win!
About ALA and the presidency:
The American Library Association (ALA) is the oldest and largest library association in the world, providing information, news, events, and advocacy resources for members, librarians, and library users. The 58,000 members are librarians, support staff, trustees, friends, retirees and international librarians united in the common cause of supporting libraries. The ALA president is the Association's chief spokesperson, working closely with the Executive Director in identifying and promoting library issues nationwide and internationally. The elections are held annually and once elected, the president serves for three years: first as president elect, then president, and finally, immediate past-president.